PRINT Summer 1964

Collecting in Los Angeles

THE 1960S SEE a richness and sophistication in art collecting in southern California that owes its origin to the example of early collectors in the area and the recent guidance of dealers and curators. One of the earliest southern California art dealers, Earl Stendahl, reports that he met the late Walter Arensberg in 1920 and that the then-celebrated collector’s esthetic vision and sophistication made a profound impression on Stendahl. The Stendahl Gallery then took to the new developments in international modern art and branched into pre-Columbian art and artifacts as a result of the enthusiasm shared by the two men. Many of the great works obtained by Stendahl and subsequently to enter either the Arensberg or Bliss collections are to be seen in the U.S. only because of this association.

Despite the excellence of the Arensberg Collection and its world-wide fame as a major repository of important 20th-century material, it had little impact on the collecting of art in southern California during the ’30s and ’40s. The Cowie and Hatfield Galleries, also important pioneers, were only holding their own in those years. The Ruth McC. Maitland collection was doubtless influenced in some part by the example of her close friends, the Arensbergs. Her remarkable collection was loaned to the University of California at Los Angeles for several years before it was dispersed in 1962. The Mr. and Mrs. George Gard De Sylva Collection, including major works by Cézanne, Redon, Gauguin, Modigliani, Morisot, Picasso and van Gogh, was given to the Los Angeles County Museum in 1946. Edward G. Robinson’s collection attracted international attention for its high quality French holdings, but this was largely lost to southern California after the actor’s divorce and the auction dominated by Niarchos. Other collections like that of Reverend James McLane, a Chagall specialist, and film director William Goetz, were widely known. Wright Ludington’s very special collection in Santa Barbara has been examined in the April number of Artforum. Vincent Price’s holdings are likewise well-known.

Probably the strongest and deepest private collection in southern California at the present time is that of Mr. Norton Simon. A brief review cannot even begin to touch on the depth of this collection. Some of its high points include Rembrandt, Hans Memling, Rubens, Lorenzo Monaco, and Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings of world-wide reputation, along with outstanding 20th-century works by Munch, Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning, and Gorky. Mr. Simon’s active membership in the Board of the Los Angeles County Museum, his $1,000,000 gift toward the County’s new art museum building, and his recent announcement that his foundation will create a new museum in Fullerton, California, are central to his position of leadership in regional collecting. In April it was announced that Mr. Simon’s foundation had brought the Duveen Brothers Gallery and art holdings at a price in excess of $15,000,000. Many of the 146 paintings, sculptures, tapestries and pieces of furniture will be coming to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Foundation’s new Fullerton museum. Included in the purchase are works by Botticelli, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Romney, Titian, Turner and Van Dyck.

The 50th anniversary celebration of the City of Beverly Hills brought forth a joint exhibit by the Paul Kantor and Frank Perls galleries of important works loaned from the collections of city residents. Some of the 48 works shown for the public benefit included paintings by Cézanne, Kirchner, Leger, Miró, Modigliani, Monet, Picasso, Pollock and Dubuffet, borrowed from the homes of William Goetz, Max Burier, Eugene Klein, Burt Kleiner, Ira Gershwin, Jerome Ohrbach, Tony Curtis, Milton Sperling and Harry Sherwood.

Typical patterns of collecting among Southland art patrons have included beginnings with modest examples by fashionable European artists in the 1930s and moved on in the late ’40s and ’50s into the contemporary American field with selections from East and West Coast artists of growing reputation. With exceptions, it may be said that the preponderant tendency among the collections shown here is to mix early and contemporary materials, internationally known European and American artists and local unknowns in extremely personal groupings.

Although there are other collections which may overlap these selections, the diversity, seriousness, range and quality of the five collections discussed below are perhaps most typical of the best of southern California’s private holdings.

Mr. Gifford Phillips, nephew of the distinguished collector, Duncan Phillips, began his collecting in childhood with a Childe Hassam watercolor. Despite growing up with art he did not feel impelled to collect seriously until 1951 when he began, together with his wife, Joann, to focus on the painting of Richard Diebenkorn in the impressive abstract landscape period. True to a very personal collecting style, the Phillipses have tended to concentrate on a few artists in considerable depth. Ten works by Diebenkorn have been joined by perhaps twelve by Robert Motherwell. The Phillips’ first Motherwell was the Black Still Life. 1950, seen in the Whitney Museum’s Annual of 1951. The Spanish Elegy series moved these collectors deeply and both earlier and later works have been slowly added to what is now a very important nucleus of Motherwell’s art. This balance between relatively unknown Californians and quite celebrated New Yorkers has been preserved without intention in later years of devoted art study and collecting. Californians who are seen in good depth in the Phillips’ holdings are Ynez Johnston, Lee Mullican, Hassel Smith and Emerson Woelffer. All of the artists are personal friends and new developments in their work tend to be reflected in this changing collection. The ten or twelve works by Woelffer included reflect his unfolding career from Chicago to Colorado, Italy and California, with the best selection outside the artist’s studio. The art of two New Yorkers—Gottlieb and Tworkov—has been explored in a similar but unpremeditated way through a satisfying selection of high points from their developing work.

Artists of distinction seen, but not in depth, in the Phillips’ home, include Avery, Baziotes, de Kooning, Edmondson, Frankenthaler, Gatch, Gorky, Graves, Hofmann, Jarvaise, Kline, Lobdell, Louis, McLaughlin, Matisse, Mitchell, Nakian, Nevelson, Noland, Oliveira, Park, Parker, Picasso, Rothko, Ruben, Hassel Smith and Stankiewicz.

Dr. and Mrs. Leonard Asher have been collecting since the Second World War, and these years have seen a number of changes in their tastes.

In the beginning, works by men like Eugene Berman, Francis De Erdely, Ben Shahn, Raphael Soyer and Howard Warshaw were joined by a few international figures like Brauner, Leger and Magritte. The Abstract Expressionist period saw additions of such artists as Albers, Frankenthaler, Leon Goldin, Goodnough, Jenkins, Lobdell, Motherwell, Oliveira, Ray Parker, Rivers, Richards Ruben, Hassel Smith and Woelffer. Pop art, Hard Edge and object making led the Ashers into new areas with growing conviction, so that Bengston, Benjamin, Blosum, Bruce Connor, Copley, Dine, Dowd, Hefferton, Kienholz, Lichtenstein, Moskowitz, Price, Peter Saul, Frank Stella, Warhol and Westermann have come into the continually changing collection.

The Ashers have been concerned from the beginning with a fantasy bordering on the surreal. This has become more clear in recent years; as a result the collection has tended to take on a firmness, a coherence and assurance that is style itself. Doubtless there are going to be changes to come. Pieces like the Albers, the new Edward Higgins, Lobdell, Ad Reinhardt and Woelffer provide a qualitative center around which the very personal taste of these collectors continues to grow and change without concern for consistency or conscious program.

Mr. Robert Rowan writes: “What I collect is a little of everything with a strong leaning toward American painting right down to Pop painting in the early sixties. I am very fond of the New York School and own work by de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, Baziotes, Hofmann, Johns and others. I am also deeply attached to the works of our great California painters, such as Diebenkorn, Hassel Smith, David Park, Frank Lobdell, Richards Ruben and Emerson Woelffer. In addition I collect works by some younger painters, East and West—John Altoon, Bill Bengston, Bob Irwin, Larry Bell, Roy Lichtenstein and Rosenquist.

“I am just making a start at collecting contemporary sculpture and am particularly fond of John Chamberlain, now living in southern California. I also have work by Kenneth Price and Somaris. I collect pre-Columbian sculpture both because I am keenly interested in it and because the Pasadena Art Museum has made a concentration in the field.”

As a major supporter of the Pasadena Art Museum, Mr. Rowan has made a considerable contribution to the art climate of the area. He recalls that he collected a number of Raoul Dufys in the ’30s, as well as some early Kandinsky paintings. In the early ’50s he moved into Abstract Expressionism through Diebenkorn, then found the German Expressionists (notably Kirchner), and later Hassel Smith and other prized members of the generation.

David Bright has been interested in modern art since the 1940’s but his participation in the Venice Biennale has probably influenced his collection more importantly than any other single factor. His early interest was in major figures of European art and around this motivation he gathered important works by Picasso (Sebastian Junyer Vidal, 1903), an important Kandinsky of 1912, a great Leger of 1918-19, a number of paintings by Miró; Modigliani’s La Chocolatiere,  (c. 1917), several paintings by Dubuffet, Kupka, a great Degas pastel, and other works by de Stael, Richier, Hajdu, Gauguin and Lipchifz.

The David E. Bright Foundation was invited in the late ’50s by the Exposizione Biennale Internationale D’Art, Venice, to sponsor awards to younger artists in the renowned Biennial. Mr. Bright has sponsored a number of awards at each succeeding Biennial from 1958 to the present. In the 1964 Biennial he provided four prizes for artists under 45 years of age—in painting, graphics, sculpture and for a sculpture garden installation. The prizes are awarded to unknown artists and are provided in association with the Italian government, attracting entries from nations throughout Europe and the Near East. Mr. Bright is the first and only American asked by the Italian authorities to provide this important act of patronage.

Since becoming involved with the Venice Biennale Mr. Bright has found his collection moving dramatically toward the international contemporary modes of Burri, Tapies, Franchini, Consagra, Sugai, Saito, Santomaso, Afro, Pomodoro, Bacci, Saura, Rotella, Fontana, Pirelli, Hartung and Crivelli. The whole enterprise has been exciting and rewarding to him and his wife and the collection reflects their enthusiasm. At the same time, Dolly Bright pursues her interest in such Americans as Kline and Rothko, and looks forward to the completion of the new sculpture court at their Bel Air estate.

The Fred and Marcia Weisman Collection is less than ten years old but it is particularly strong in major artists of the heroic years of modern art and in contemporary American leaders of the older generation. The center of the contemporary collection is a series of four paintings by Clyfford Still, dating from the late ’40s and early ’50s. There is a major Barnett Newman painting, Onement, and the only released cast of Newman’s bonze sculpture. Jackson Pollock is represented by Scent, 1955. Willem de Kooning is to be seen with Untitled, 1943, Dark Pond, 1947, Pink Angels, 1945, Two Women, 1952. Other important Americans include Joseph Cornell, Gorky, Guston, Kelly, Kline, Motherwell and Rothko. The European background is filled in by Wassily Kandinsky’s Nude, 1911, a Picasso portrait of 1939, a classic Mondrian oil of 1935, and a cluster of oils by Ernst, Cézanne, Leger, Matisse, Schwitters and Tanguy.

Sculpture has become a major element in the collection in recent years. Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse joins works by both Gabo and Pevsner, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti as a core around which both European and American pieces are gathered. In the garden one encounters The Emperor’s Bedchamber by Reuben Nakian, as well as works by Peter Voulkos and John Mason. In a sheltered lanai one finds de Rivera, Turnbull, Higgins, Arp and Gabe Kohn. Unquestionably one of the blue chip collections of southern California, the Weisman’s choices have remained firm without need for re-evaluation in the light of changing fashions and tastes.

Gerald Nordland